Engineered wall paint could kill corona viruses

Investigation of aerosols on titanium dioxide shows promising routes to surface and air disinfection

Common wall paint could potentially be modified to kill the Corona virus and many other pathogens. This is an important finding of a study from a research team including DESY scientists on the virus-killing effect of titanium dioxide (TiO2), a ubiquitous white pigment that is found in paints, plastic products and sunscreens. TiO2 also has many other important applications relevant to environmental sustainability and renewable energy. The international team led by Heshmat Noei from the DESY NanoLab reports its results in the journal Applied Materials & Interfaces published by the American Chemical Society (ACS).

“Titanium dioxide is widely used as a pigment to whiten a wide range of products,” explains Noei. “But it is also a powerful catalyst in many applications such as air and water purification and self-cleaning materials. Therefore, we saw it as a promising candidate for a virus inactivating coating.” Teaming up with the group of virologist Ulrike Protzer and Greg Ebert from the research centre Helmholtz Munich and the Technische Universität München, the scientists tested titanium dioxide´s power against the corona virus. “We were the first to apply corona viruses on a titanium dioxide surface and investigate what happens,” says Noei.

Hard X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy at the PETRA III beamline P22 at DESY provides the necessary high chemical and elemental sensitivity to resolve subtle chemical changes. The research team investigated the contact process on the surface and was able to clarify that the amino acids of the corona virus spike protein attach to the titanium dioxide surface, trapping the virus and preventing it from binding to human cells. “We found that the virus adsorbs to the titanium dioxide surface and cannot detach again and will eventually be inactivated by dehydration and be denatured,” explains the paper´s main author Mona Kohantorabi from the DESY NanoLab. “Moreover, the titanium dioxide catalyses the inactivation of the virus by light. For our study we used ultraviolet light, which triggered the inactivation of the virus within 30 minutes, but we believe the catalyst can be further optimised to accelerate the inactivation and, more importantly, work under standard indoor lighting. We believe it could then be used as an antiviral coating for walls, windows and other surfaces for instance in hospitals, schools, airports, elderly homes and kindergardens.”

Read more on the DESY website

Image: An image taken with an atomic force microscope from the investigation: The SARS-CoV-2 particles (light) adsorb on the titanium dioxide surface. There, structural proteins are inactivated by denaturation and oxidation by light irradiation.

Credit: DESY Nanolab, Mona Kohantorabi